China’s ideological spectrum

It is basically statist vs. classical liberal, and it is strongly uni-dimensional.  Those are the main lessons from a new and interesting paper by Jennifer Pan and Yiqing Xu:

We offer the first large scale empirical analysis of ideology in contemporary China to determine whether individuals fall along a discernible and coherent ideological spectrum, and whether there are regional and inter-group variations in ideological orientation. Using principal component analysis (PCA) on a survey of 171,830 individuals, we identify one dominant ideological dimension in China. Individuals who are politically conservative, who emphasize the supremacy of the state and nationalism, are also likely to be economically conservative, supporting a return to socialism and state-control of the economy, and culturally conservative, supporting traditional, Confucian values. In contrast, political liberals, supportive of constitutional democracy and individual liberty, are also likely to be economic liberals who support market-oriented reform and social liberals who support modern science and values such as sexual freedom. This uni-dimensionality of ideology is robust to a wide variety of diagnostics and checks. Using post-stratification based on census data, we find a strong relationship between liberal orientation and modernization — provinces with higher levels of economic development, trade openness, urbanization are more liberal than their poor, rural counterparts, and individuals with higher levels of education and income and more liberal than their less educated and lower-income peers.

Here is some NYT coverage of the piece.  Here is some good Foreign Policy coverage.  Currently this is the most downloaded piece on SSRN.


Very bad and self-selected sample. Anyone can go to that website and do the survey for as many times as you want. In practice, the participants were politically interested high school and college students and some recent graduates. Plus the survey questions were submitted by internet users, who knew little about how to design surveys, rather than survey researchers.

When do you hope to publish your paper detailing your work and provide your data refuting the work of Pan an Xu.

You are clearly far along in your research and have the data to be so critical of the referenced work.

Somebody call a doctor, cuz macro just got BURNT.

Somebody call a spin doctor, cuz jjbees just accepted a straightforward appeal to authority as a persuasive argument.

That's not really an appeal to authority, since anyone can publish anywhere. It's more like an appeal to doing one's homework.

See, there really are a lot of libertarians.

In which direction does the causality run? Does liberalism cause higher income or does higher income cause liberalism?

So, the poor are relying on the state- the one run by rich people who are highly educated and personally liberal, to protect from the the highly educated liberals....

The FP piece is entitled:

What it Means to Be ‘Liberal’ or ‘Conservative’ in China

Ha! From Tylers quote of the paper it seems that Pan and Xu are using the words in straightforward plain English, as opposed to the American usage curiously distorted by the needs of political salesmen. Perhaps in China the Chinese language has been so distorted.

The only twist to note is that in a country that was socialist a generation ago, then "conservative" means "socialist". But that still follows from the straightforward meaning of the words given their context.

Conservatives value stability, so these findings about the Chinese aren't surprising. Conservatives in America likewise value stability, economic conservatives and cultural conservatives placing a high priority on preserving the status quo (or restoring the status quo ante). Sometimes the status quo is unstable, a point I've made often about a high level of inequality: it correlates with financial and economic instability. And here's a paradox: many self-described economic conservatives opposed aggressive monetary stimulus, the purpose and effect of which was to restore the status quo ante. Ground Hog Day! What does that make someone who opposed aggressive monetary stimulus because he also opposed the status quo ante? Conservative? Liberal? Radical? Confused? "May you live in interesting times" is a curse, not a blessing.

Agree with the questionable quality of the survey's numbers - but not with its deterministic results. The results are obvious. China has a problem similar to ours: the Han know that they must preserve order in their favor against hostile border peoples. The west has forgotten that Germany provided this function for us, and we bathed in safety because of it. And took it for granted. And we were wrong.

As to "Which Comes First":
1) Higher Income reduces opportunity costs and risk (liberalism). Lower income increases opportunity cost and risk(conservatism).
2) Economic velocity is produced by the centralization of rents, which lowers local (productive) transaction costs at the expense of high total cost (taxation).
3) Once rents are centralized, we seek to obtain or privatize (redistribute) those rents (economic liberalism) through enfranchisement.
4) In a perfect world we seek to eliminate those rents (anglo classical liberalism).
5) But the diversity of ability leads to class warfare since meritocracy is valuable only to a minority, and rents, and parasitism are beneficial to the majority..
6) In a perfect world we pay the less able, parasitic, and rent seeking minority directly for the maintenance of the meritocratic commons, and thereby circumvent the parasitism of the bureaucratic, and political classes. And perhaps more importantly, prevent the misallocation of capital.
7) To accomplish this perfect world requires we develop institutions that allow us to produce commons, and pay people for producing those commons: meritocracy included.

X-Axis: Equalitarian/Socialist-Compromise/Social Democracy - Meritocratic/Classical Liberal Monarchy.
Y-Axis: Totalitarian- Democratic - Anarchic
Z-Axis: Wealth (elimination of transaction costs by the suppression of free riding)

Suppression of parasitism comes first. Centralize it to eliminate it locally. Then outlaw it, and eliminate it from the central bureaucracy. Economic velocity is determined by the suppression of free riding in all its forms at all levels in the polity.

(Read Emmanuel Todd's Invention of Europe. Ricardo Duchsene's Uniqueness of the West, Hayek's Constitution of Liberty, Hoppe's Democracy the God that Failed, and follow my humble efforts.)


I've been saying for a few years here that the future major political parties in the US will be coalitions of social conservatives & nationalists/socialists against social liberals & globalists. The Cold War era coalitions will not last because they are an anachronism now.

Doubtful. If anything, the boundaries have become ever more clear with the death of neoliberalism.

That also seems to be true in the former Soviet bloc. I wonder what those two parts of the world have in common?

+1 There are many people in the Soviet Bloc (mostly older and poorer ones) who are regular churchgoers, yet vote straight Communist.

Didn't you hear? Raul Castro is coming back to The Church?

Too bad Fidel didn't repent before he died.


And, to be fair, Catholic economic teaching is not much different from Communism.


I think the more interesting thing is to consider that much of the ideological spectrum is represented within the party to various extents, and therefore that the party is not nearly as monolithic as it might appear when consider policy priorities decided upon by the top.

The similarity between China and the (especially if you normalize for the current government) is telling. Is it possible that one group is abstractly right and the other wrong? The persistence of the "wrong" side must then be explained. Different positions in the culture? Clearly the direction of change in most societies is towards the liberal. Should that predispose us toward thinking that liberalism is "right"? (Personally speaking, yikes!)

I can see only disputes between black and white, China and U.S. ideology... It's better to read something like Dr. Pillsbury wrote in 100 year marathon and everything will be clear with ideology.

Could it be that conservative and liberal are extremes between which the pendulum representing development of the state, any state, swings? The measure of conservatism and liberalism are relative to each other and to cultural norms. The amplitude and frequency of the pendulum have something to say about the stability of the state.

Perhaps the real value in the work of Pan and Yu is that it suggests a dynamic that needs to be understood.

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